Finger Lakes

Finger Lakes

Courtesy of Finger Lakes

Cuomo Proposes Plan for Finger Lakes

Governor is calling for new purse contributions.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is proposing a plan to keep racing afloat at Finger Lakes Racetrack that calls for new contributions to a purse account from the track's owners, as well as from a newly opened nearby commercial casino and the state's Thoroughbred Breeding and Development Fund.

Just two weeks after the opening of del Lago Resort & Casino a short drive away from the track, in Waterloo, N.Y., the Cuomo administration Feb. 17 said its plan will feature a bailout of the track's purse fund without the use of taxpayers' dollars.

The proposal was floated Friday night by the New York State Gaming Commission and came after a late afternoon round of negotiations between the various sides, including the track's owners, Delaware North Cos., and the Finger Lakes horsemen's group.

The plan is intended to address the sharp flow of gambling dollars expected to move from the Finger Lakes racino, which shares a portion of its revenues with purses, to del Lago, a newly opened casino 29 miles away from the track. Officials from the horsemen's group have predicted for several years that the casino, once opened, would drive enough business away from the Finger Lakes racino that purses would decline to such a point that racing would no longer be offered at the upstate Thoroughbred facility.

The Cuomo plan calls for Delaware North to commit between $600,000 and $1 million. In return, the horsemen would have to guarantee an average number of minimum entries per race. State officials Friday night did not immediately reveal that level.

The new casino, del Lago, would contribute $440,000 to the track's purse account. The New York Thoroughbred Breeding and Development Fund would, under Cuomo's proposal, commit to "purse enrichment monies" for Finger Lakes. The state did not provide details of that provision, but said it would be subject to a vote of the fund's board.

"In return, Finger Lakes commits to a dialogue relative to racing surfaces with the breeders and state, who will consider what economic development monies may be available for such purposes,'' said a brief statement by Cuomo's Gaming Commission on the new proposal.

Officials said the deal still needs the approval of the Finger Lakes horsemen's group. A state official said Delaware North, del Lago casino, and the breeding and development fund is already on board with the new proposal.

The commission said the plan is meant to "address possible shortfalls" to purses because of the opening of del Lago--a situation that casino experts and del Lago developers had already predicted when the new commercial casino was proposed a couple years ago.

The state said Cuomo's plan calls for keeping purses at 2016 levels and set the number of racing dates per season at 145 days--down from 155 days in 2016. It states the track must have eight races per day from April to November. The gaming agency added that average per-race purses for 2017 and 2018 would be $13,690--up from $13,224 in 2016.

The proposed deal applies to 2017 and 2018, with the option for a third year in 2019.

"All parties would reconvene in August 2017 and 2018 in the Governor's office to evaluate any actual impact of del Lago's operation on the racetrack's operation.  For 2019 and beyond, officials would then have two years' worth of data to help identify a longer-term solution for the track,'' stated the Gaming Commission Friday night.

There were no immediate comments from the various stakeholders.